Fact Or Fiction
what's your sign?" More than just a corny
pickup line, astrology in various forms,
has been with mankind for a very long time.
People from various countries and cultures,
have often looked up to the stars for guidance.
Million of people read their daily horoscopes,
though most look at it as a mere form of
entertainment. Other people genuinely take
the art of astrology very seriously and
think it is a valid medium with which to
predict a person's personality, as well
as their immediate future (though most serious
astrologers view magazine horoscopes as
just being entertainment).
where did it all get started? Around 3,500
years ago, the ancient Babylonians were
attempting to correlate events that happened
on earth (e.g. good crop yields, bad diseases)
with things they noticed in the night sky.
This was not the first time that this happened,
either. Other ancient cultures, such as
the Mayans and Aztecs, developed their own
form of astrology too. Most of the astrology
we see today, though, comes from India,
Europe and China. All of it, though, is
either deeply routed, or deeply influenced
by Babylonian astrology.
Early astrologers simply correlated earthly
events with celestial ones. It wasn't until
mathematical astronomy developed (which
allows us to predict the movement of stars
and planets), around 612-539 BC, that astrologers
started to "predict" the future. It was
also around this time that the "twelve"
signs of the zodiac, were created. The oldest
recorded horoscope dates back to April 29th
410 B.C. It comes from an old clay plate
that was made for the birth of a Grecian
man. The tablet is very similar to the natal
horoscopes given out today. Even more similar,
though, is the vague prediction given about
the person. The parts of the tablet that
have still survive, state:
will be good for you."
Early Babylonian astrologers were called:
Chaldeans. They would set up shops in cities,
and offer their services to passersby. Interestingly,
it wasn't until they did this in Greece,
that the concept of free will was entered
into the equation. Ancient Greeks viewed
these chaldeans as jokes, and their predictions
to be patently false. They refused to believe
that the stars themselves dictated their
actions, and that they had no free will.
Because of this, astrologers adopted the
belief that the stars can only show "possible
pathways" through life. This turned out
to be a greater boon for the chaldeans and
future astrologers, than it did for the
Greeks. Now astrologers had a viable excuse
for why their predictions did not always
we come to the most influential man in astrology:
Claudius Ptolemeaus. Also known as Ptolemy,
he wrote the book: Tetrabiblos. In it, Ptolemeaus
attempted to consolidate all the various
aspects of astrology at the time, into some
sort of viable standard. Tetrabiblos is
generally regarded as the modern astrological
"bible," from which all western astrology
Okay, so now we see where it all got started,
but what's with the surge in popularity?
Astrology was on the downturn back in the
1600's, as astronomy really took off. It
wasn't until the relatively recent events
of World War I, that astrology really started
to pick up again. So, why is it that in
this day and age, with the knowledge available
to most industrial and post-industrial nations,
that astrology is so popular? Could it actually
be a viable means of telling the future,
or a person's psychology?
So far, that answer is an emphatic NO, from
the scientific community. Despite the fact
that one Gallup poll found that an estimated
50% of Americans believe in astrology, there
has been no scientifically valid evidence
to back up this belief. On the contrary,
there are quite a lot of counterexamples
for it. In fact, there are so many counter-examples
to the validity of astrology, that most
scientists just dismiss it as a fun diversion.
Still, for the sake of closure, a few such
examples are given below.
For starters, we have the arbitrary nature
of astronomical symbols themselves. All
the traditional planets of our solar system
(i.e. none of the recently discovered planetary
candidates), were named after Roman gods.
This assignment was completely arbitrary.
There might have been some logic behind
it (Mars is red, war has blood, etc.), but
overall there is no real reason to think
that just because Venus was named after
the goddess of love, that it should hold
any sway over one's relationships. If the
"effects" of the planets on people, had
any real relationship to the planets themselves,
then Venus should be the ruler of bad gas,
Other things to consider are the fact that
many astrological terms, are holdovers from
a time when the Earth was believed to be
the center of the universe (geocentric).
As such, astrologers still talk about cycles
and epicycles. How many times has one heard
an astrologer (or astrology minded individual)
say that "Mars is in retrograde."
Then there is the fact that Uranus, Neptune
and Pluto have only been discovered within
the past 250 years. Many astrologers assert
that astrological techniques have been accurate
for numerous centuries. If planets affect
people, then one cannot discount these three;
which is to say nothing of the recently
discovered "10th planet."
Another nail in the proverbial coffin is
the mysterious omission of the 13th sign
of the zodiac: Ophiuchus. This constellation
falls along the ecliptic, and houses the
sun during one month of the year (December).
Yet modern astrologers choose to ignore
the "serpent bearer," in favour of the 12
zodiac symbols. The reason, they cite, is
the turbid history of the constellation.
Ophiuchus lies in a spot in the sky, which
once housed multiple constellations. This
argument tends to fall apart, though, when
one considers that the ancient Greeks, as
well as "father of modern astrology," Claudius
Ptolemeaus, both considered Ophiuchus to
be a valid constellation. The more likely
scenario seems to be that 12 zodiac symbols
fit rather well with the 12 months in the
Gregorian calendar. As such, the reason
for the omission seems to be convenience
and aesthetics, rather than any real problem
with the constellation itself.
Two more examples of where astrology fails
the test of validity include twin studies
and the affect of precession. With twin
studies, one sees how two people born at
the same time and same place are able to
lead lives completely different from each
other, even though their astrological horoscope
should work for both of them. The affect
of precession is even more interesting.
As Earth spins through the universe, it
"wobbles" along its axis due to the gravitational
pull of the moon and the sun. This wobble
can be compared to the wobble that we see
when we spin a top. Even when the top spins
very fast, one can still see it make a small
circle on the area it is spinning. The Earth
does something very similar to this. The
geographic North Pole makes a 23.5◦
arc around, what's known as, the ecliptic
pole. This precession proceeds at a rate
of 1◦ for every 180 years.
Because of this, the placement of the constellations
in the night sky, no longer conforms to
their position in the original tropical
zodiac. Every zodiac symbol is now off by
1 month. So if one is born in the constellation
Virgo, they are actually in the constellation
Libra, and so on. There is a separate type
of astrology called: Sidereal Astrology.
It does take into account, the precession
of the planet. It does this by deducting
~24◦ from the constellations. Both
versions still suffer from the fact that
the constellations themselves, are not of
equal size, and thus, do not fit neatly
into the 12, 30◦ "slices" of the sky,
that astrologers have assigned them to.
As such, constellation overlap still occurs.
More examples include the affect of gravity
(why worry about Saturn's pull, when the
moon's pull is so much stronger!), to magnetic
field affects (modern electronics produce
magnetic fields much more powerful than
Astrology can be a fun and entertaining
diversion for many, but one should always
keep in mind that it is for entertainment
is hardly an absurdity of the past that
cannot be found flourishing somewhere in
the present." - Will Durant
Iconoclast is a student at the University
Of New Mexico and part of the web building
team at http://www.gifteteria.com/.